Blimey! You and your blokes have been banished and stripped of everything but a few shillings and table scraps. Undaunted, you journey to a strange land to reinvent yourself and reclaim your honor. Will you farm the earth, fight as knights or finagle your own feudums?
Feudum (latin for fiefdom) is an economic medieval game of hand and resource management for 2-5 players. With many strategies at their disposal, players optimize four actions per turn in attempt to score the most victory points over five epochs.
Each player controls several medieval characters that roam the countryside tending farms, taxing towns and taking outposts in effort to rise in power.
But that’s only the tip of the behemoth's horn! You will also compete to acquire coveted feudums, which increase your membership status in one of six guilds. But beware! Feudum owners must pay homage to the king through military service or face the charge of disloyalty.
Once a guild member, you will dutifully play your part in a progressive economic cycle, whereby the farmer ships goods to the merchant who equips the alchemist, who invents black powder, which arms the knight, and so on.
If you run your guilds wisely, maintain control of key locations and adapt best to changing events, you will be victorious. Unless, of course, you starve, get sidetracked by sea serpents or develop an unhealthy interest in fermented grapes. Long live the King!
Feudum is finally hitting gamers' tables after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, with 3,028 backers raising $263,852 to make the game happen. The 2-5 player game comes from debut designer Mark Swanson and publishing company Crowd Games, with art from Jason Schultz. Is it worth a look if you weren't one of the original backers?
What's Feudum about?
Described as a 'nuanced game of hand and resource management' on its Kickstarter page, Feudum has many of the hallmarks of a big Euro game. However, it's pseudo-medieval theme comes through fairly strongly in places (more than you might expect for a Euro) and there is a lot going on to give the game a strong, unique identity.
While the rule book lays on some flavour about your characters being banished from elsewhere and coming to the game's world to make a name for themselves, the central theme, as communicated by the board and components, is of a medieval land with some fun, unique twists.
The board represents the dominion of King Daniel, with six distinct regions flanked on either side by six guilds (farmer, merchant, alchemist, knight, noble and monk). These features give the game's setting a strong geographical and social identity and provide the foundations for the core mechanics that we'll see later on.
Quirks in the theme come from adorable monster miniatures and the existence of machines like air ships and submarines - telltale signs that Swanson wanted there to be something distinctive about his world. The art from Jason Schultz reinforces that idea with a gorgeous, unique style that brings the whole game to life. It's undoubtedly some of the best art I've seen on a game that falls into the Euro game bracket.
How do you play it?
In my previous reviews I've always attempted to provide an overview of how the whole game works, but there's no way that I can condense a 25-page rule book, containing a large number of different but intersecting rules, into a couple of hundred words.
I'll start by saying that Feudum is a complex game, deserving of it's 4.56/5 weight rating on Board Game Geek. Its complexity doesn't so much come from individual rules being difficult to understand as from the sheer number of different variables that add up to give players huge numbers of choices throughout the game. Some players will love this aspect of the game, but it's undeniably daunting for less experienced gamers.
The aim of Feudum is to finish with the most veneration points (VP) at the end of five epochs. VP can be gained in a wide variety of ways, but the most common are controlling and improving locations on the board, as well as gaining control of different guilds and using their abilities.
The game progresses in rounds, during which players take it in turns to play 4-5 actions of their choice. Throughout the normal course of play (though not in every round), players will make decisions that will cause the current epoch to end. When it does, the end of that round will feature intermediate point scoring and some board replenishment. The game ends with the dawn of the fifth epoch.
An action-selection mechanic is what makes the game tick. Players each have 11 identical actions cards, from which they will choose four to carry out over the course of a round. Players choose these four cards at the start of the round and cannot alter their selection once the turns have started. Some resources in the game will let you manipulate this process slightly, but that's the gist of things.
These action cards do all sorts of things. One important action is moving your pawns. Every player has three pawns - coloured cubes with each face representing one of the six guilds. These pawns allow players to exert influence in different areas (via another action) and to conquer other player's pawns and territories. It matters which face of your pawn is showing, as it counts towards guild membership.
When you gain control of a location you can use other actions to improve it or get it to produce helpful goods. Locations have four stages: outpost, farm, town or feudum. The first three all have unique abilities that you can trigger with actions (to get you more points, resources or money) but a feudum will give you a significant boost in guild status and make you a vassal of King Daniel.
If you're a vassal, you'll have to prove your loyalty by conquering other player's pawns and feudums, otherwise you lose points at the dawn of epochs two, four and five. Conquering is another action, which involves being in the same location as your target and being able to overcome their defence with multiple pawns or with bonuses gained from resources. If you conquer a pawn you gain a couple of points and that pawn leaves the map, but if you conquer a feudum you oust the current ruler, gain control of the location and gain even more points!
The final core feature of the basic game is guild status. You gain guild status through having your pawns match a certain guild, controlling feudums and controlling multiple locations. Each guild has certain features associated with it. For example, the merchant guild lets players buy resources from it, while the alchemist guild makes and sells vessels like submarines and airships that allow players to move around the board in different ways.
If you're the guildmaster or journeyman you have additional powers, which involve pulling resources into the guild and pushing them out to earn yourself points and create helpful goods that keep the game's economy moving.
You'll gain some points in game, through taking actions like improving your locations and conquering opponents, then there'll be more scoring at the dawn of each epoch from guild membership and locations controlled. Finally, there'll be some more scoring at the end of the game with bonus points for the number and type of locations you control, as well as any bonus objective cards that you picked up over the course of the game (through taking actions like exploring from your outpost or acting as the journeyman of a guild). The player with the most points wins!
The Advanced Game
Everything I just described is part of the basic game. The rules also contain an advanced game, which introduces different abilities for the pawns based on what guild they're part of, additional location tiles and, of course, monsters. None of these rules change the core of the game, but they add more decisions and more variables for players to work with, increasing the game's depth and strategy.
Initial Impressions of the Game
I have to say that I've only played the game all the way through once at the point of writing, so I still have much more to explore. That one play through has shown me that this is a game that needs multiple plays to fully appreciate, but I can give my first impressions.
With a play time of 80-180 minutes, it's no quick time filler. It's going to take a significant time investment and the first few times you play will probably be on the longer end of that spectrum. There are a lot of components and a lot of rules to bear in mind. The upside is that, for players who take the time to get into the game, it's likely to be an immersive, rewarding experience, with plenty of freedom to explore numerous different strategies.
There's a lot of content to explore in Feudum and a lot of strategies to try. The economy of the game, with the six guilds pushing and pulling from each other, is a really interesting puzzle for players to navigate that will change every game. In each decision, there are compelling risks and rewards and there is very little randomness to mess up your plans. Skilful players and good decisions will nearly always be rewarded, which should make this game very attractive to a large section of the board gaming community.
There are also a few other pros and cons to pick out that are somewhat independent of player preference and ability. As I said earlier, the art is fantastic. It's truly unique and the board and components look awesome on the table. Additionally, I think the guilds are a really strong feature. They add interesting gameplay aspects to a theme that goes beyond farming the European countryside. They also give players the ability to gain an identity for themselves within the game, which encourage more emotional investment and increases the viable strategies available.
On the flip side, the game could benefit from some more visual clarity. It's hard to see the starting location tiles during set-up and it's also not immediately clear what all the routes between locations are, as the ship routes in particular are quite hard to see. This could be particularly tricky for visually impaired players.
I also think the rule book could be improved. Many of the rules were communicated well, but I found some of the point scoring rules and clarifications of the royal writ cards to be very hard to understand. I feel like you should watch a how to play video if you want to get everything straight before you play.
All that said, many other pros and cons will be specific to the particular group that's playing the game. It's not a game for everyone and some people will find a lot more to enjoy than others.
Who will like Feudum?
Feudum takes time to understand. If you want to get the most out of it, you'll need to play with a group that is prepared to spend mental energy understanding all the rules (possibly researching it in advance to speed things up) and to have a few play-throughs to really get to grips with everything. If you know your game group is up for it, then this could be a great investment for you. At around £50-£60 there's so much in-depth game content here that you'll always be getting great value for money.
If, on the other hand, you're not a fan of heavier games or you tend to play with others who prefer the lighter end of the scale, I can confidently say that Feudum isn't for you. This is in no ways a light or entry-level game. I can pretty confidently say that inexperienced gamers are unlikely to enjoy it and if you're not with a group that's prepared to spend a few hours puzzling it out, it's not going to be a rewarding experience.
All of that leads me to the conclusion that Feudum is going to be a complete hit with some groups and a bust with others. If your group prefers lighter and shorter games, then you should probably give this one a miss. If, however, you're happy to spend time understanding the game and playing through it a few times, I think you'll find it a satisfying, enjoyable experience that you'll come back to over and over again.